breaking the spell of someday
find a balance between having hope and living now

how to find your calm before you lose your cool

 

"Few things are brought to a successful issue
by impetuous desire, but most by calm and prudent forethought."

Thucydides

  

Imagine this Golden Retriever has just been jumped all over by a pack of wild, sandy children, tugging at her ears and pulling at her tail. She wants to nip at them, to treat them as she would annoying little sand gnats, but she's been trained not to. Not only has she been trained, she has a naturally calm and family-friendly nature. I can't speak for all Golden Retrievers, of course, but, for the most part the ones I have encountered are calm, cool, and collected. What I want to know is... how can I be more like the pup in that picture? How can I can keep it together when people are seriously getting on my nerves?

A few days ago, one of my most loyal commenters, Ia, left this suggestion in her comment: "Maybe you have some tips on keeping your cool when people are pushing your buttons." I though this was a GREAT idea, but since the "breaking the spell of someday" post was already underway, I had to put the topic off until today. Those of you who know me are probably reading this and saying to yourselves, "Dani? Write a post about being calm?" I guarantee that no matter who you ask or when you ask, no one that I know would label me as a "calm" person. Anxious, high-strung, high-maintenance, maybe...but calm? That's probably not going to the be the first adjective to come to mind for anyone who knows me well. In fact, now that I think about it, I recall that a close friend of mine once referred to me as a Chihuahua, which is pretty much as far from a calm Golden Retriever as you can get!

So, I guess, what I'm saying is...I don't know if I'm the best person to be giving advice on staying calm. However, I do think I give pretty good advice (even if I don't always follow it) so I'm going to give it my best shot. The one time I find myself most un-calm is when I'm faced with an argument. I don't like conflicts and I don't handle them very well. I love to use the following tactics: yelling, swearing, implementing the silent treatment, and resorting to low blows. Yes, I'm quite the mature young lady. As you can imagine, these tactics have not worked well for me. In fact, they've been the downfall of quite a few relationships. I don't know about you, but I want to be able to handle arguments and conflicts in a calm, mature fashion. So how do I plan to do this? Of course, it comes down to some simple steps that, if used, will guarantee a much better outcome than any silent treatment or screaming match ever could.

 

How To Find Your Calm (When You Feel Like Punching Someone)

 

Step 1: Take a deep breath.

Whatever you do, take a deep, deep breath before you react. Not only will this help you to physically calm down, but it will also give you a moment to collect yourself and your thoughts. Deep breaths relax you and the more relaxed you are, the more clearly you will be able to think. And, not surprisingly, the more clearly you can think, the more clearly you can communicate with others. While I don't normally do this, I do think it's a great idea to take a pause before speaking -- especially when in an argument. When I don't think about what I'm going to say, you never know what will tumble out of my mouth! Taking a deep breath is a way to calm myself AND force me to pause and think. One thing, two benefits. What could be better than that?

Step 2: Take a step back. 

Take a step back and look at the situation from the other person's perspective. How might you feel if you were in his or her shoes? Consider this before opening your mouth to lash out and explode with all of the self-focused mumbo jumbo that is likely to be at the forefront of your mind. This isn't always easy. Typically in the heat of the moment we can only think about what we want, how wronged we were. However, it really does help to stop and think, just for a moment, about how the other person might be feeling. There are two sides to every story. In many cases, one person is flat out wrong, but, a lot of the time, both people have valid points to make. Listen to what the other person is saying. Open not only your ears but your mind as well and you'll find that things will go a lot more smoothly.

Step 3: Take a look at yourself. 

Literally look at yourself. What is your body language saying. Body language is HUGE in the world of arguments. You can put someone in a defensive mode simply by standing a certain way. If you have your fists clenched, your body language is saying, "FIGHT!" Is that the message you want to be sending? Okay, it might be, but it's not the message you should be sending if you want the conversation to continue in a calm fashion. Try to use neutral or open body language (arms at your sides, neutral facial expression, etc.). In addition, make an effort to look the other person in the eye. Avoiding conflict is something I love to do, but it never gets you anywhere. I can tell you first hand that when someone has to gasp in frustration, "You're not even looking at me!" the conversation is not going well. No matter how angry or upset you are, the other person deserves your full attention. Stay in the moment. Be present, even when it's painful.

Step 4: Take it down a notch. 

Once you've reviewed Steps 1-3, remind yourself to keep your voice down. Yelling never helps any situation. It doesn't make your point better than someone else's. It doesn't make your argument more valid. All yelling does is prove that you can speak loudly. Good for you. This is not a contest. This is an argument that needs to be resolved and no amount of voice volume is going to make it resolve itself any faster. And don't think that because the other person is yelling that you have to start yelling too. Two yelling people does NOT equal a resolved argument. Have you ever thought back on a situation and thought to yourself, "Wow, I'm SO glad I yelled at that person. I feel so much better now." Personally, that's never happened to me. No matter how much someone has deserved to be yelled at, I never, ever feel better when I do it. So, from now on, I'm going to try my best not to yell.

Step 5: Take a positive pill.  

I bet you all knew this was coming. Look for the positive! Yes, once again, I've said it...but, by now, I bet you're starting to see how looking at things from a positive perspective really does help in almost every situation. In the throes of an argument, it's not always easy to look at the good side of things. We are so focused on winning, on being right, that we're willing to remember (and say) things we might not otherwise. The positive is in everything -- no matter how grim the situation -- but it's up to YOU to find it. If you have to walk away for awhile to re-evaluate, do that. If you need to take a pause, close your eyes, and remember the good, do that. Whatever you need to do to see the positive, do it. Sometimes, I'll admit, there isn't much good in a situation, but, don't forget, no matter what is happening, you are learning and growing from the experience.

 


Apparently, being calm is contagious. That means that if you follow these steps, the other person in the situation will be more likely to behave in a calm manner if YOU behave in a calm manner. See what I'm gettin' at here? You can start the chain of calm. It won't be easy when you're feeling angry or upset, but I bet you any amount of money that, after it's all said and done, you'll be happy that you chose to find your calm before you lost your cool.

How do YOU find your calm?
Do you have any tips for staying cool when things get heated?

Comments

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I find my calm by going to the beach, which is where I'm headed shortly for a late afternoon walk!

Hi Dani,

In all my relationships, including the current one, I'm very prone to yelling as a 'tactic' with once-in-a-blue-moon swearing (I used to do that more often in the past but I've since made marked improvement).

Although I've made some progress in yelling less and softer (I know this sounds weird, but it's true!), I'd still like to improve further. I really appreciate the advice you've given here and I think taking a deep breath really helps.

Sometimes I'd just force myself to stay calm but I must say it's a pretty damn hard thing to do. At times, I really wonder if I should seek out an anger management course.

Cheers~

Mark

Interesting... although not always calm, I'm almost never angry. Your tips speak to hot tempered, angry, and passioned emotion. My not being calm comes in the form of anxiety, worry, and panic. Maybe you could write a related post?

I wish I'd read this a few days ago when I really did feel like I lost it. In fact, the last blog entry I wrote is called "I lost it." Pathetic, huh?! Anyway, just an aside about the yelling thing. I never feel better after yelling. I usually feel worse. It gets me even more worked up than before and I feel like my blood is going to boil! I really try not to yell, but sometimes I am not too successful!

Taking a positive pill is a great way to add that cherry on top. I've made the mistake of calming myself down, but not readjusting my perspective. Then I fall right back into the emotional rut.

Making this a habit is hard, but the more that I do this the happier I become.

Stacey - I am SO jealous right now. I love the beach and it's a great place to find calmness.

Mark - It sounds like you might want to think about anger management or maybe therapy. Yelling "softer" is still yelling and all of that anger has to be detrimental to both you and those around you. For some people, staying calm takes more than just trying to do it. More extreme measures may be needed, but I think when you address whatever anger issues you have, you'll be a LOT happier.

Vi - Good point! I'm usually not angry, but the rare occasions that I'm angry really bother me. For the most part, my calm is disrupted by anxiety and worry. I'll have to write a post on that topic as well!

Jill - I'm sorry I didn't write the post a few days ago! However, everything that happens is a chance to learn. If I were you, I'd think about how yelling made you feel. It sounds like you didn't feel too good afterward. Remember that feeling the next time you want to raise your voice.

Karl - I agree that it's really hard to make this a habit, but the more we practice at changing our perspectives on life, the happier we'll be. Thanks for the comment!

Like you, I'm more likely to be described as some variation on "intense" than calm. I'll keep the Golden Retriever image in my mind the next time I feel my blood pressure rising. "Stay calm" is a good rule to live by. I recently wrote an article on wilderness survival, and all the literature says no matter what the threat (getting lost, encountering a bear, etc.), staying calm and not panicking is the first step.

I don't like conflict, either, so I've employed similar tactics to yours: blaming, bringing up the past, or shutting down. I've found that saying, "Let's talk about it in 20 minutes" and walking around the block a few times works wonders.

Melia - That's a great point about talking about something in 20 minutes. There's usually no urgent rush to talk about an issue and that time to cool down and think could make a huge difference. I also like the point about the wilderness. If you're supposed to stay calm in front of any angry bear, it makes sense to stay calm in front of an angry person too, doesn't it?

Hi Dani,

Great post. I love the fact that you mentioned that being calm is contagious. I think yelling is also contagious, among a bunch of other things. I'm reading two books write now The Tipping Point, and Virus of The Mind which talk about contagious ideas. Of course, I get my daily dose of calm from a few hours of surfing since I live in LA.

Can't say I always do this one perfectly. ;-)

But, when taking a breath and taking a step back, I ask myself some questions.

Questions like, "why am I angry? What is this really about?"
Because there's usually a reason that has more to do with me than with the other person.

Maybe I had certain expectations that aren't being met.
(And maybe, I didn't communicate those well.)

Maybe they're doing something that really....I don't like about myself.
(Life mirrors ourselves back to us, yeah?)

Or maybe, just maybe, the other person really is being a massive jerk and treating me poorly and I need to just walk away -- but don't want to. I want them to stop being a jerk. (But if that isn't going to happen, it isn't going to happen.)

Maybe I'm angry because I can't 'control things' and get the outcome *I* want. (See the last statement.)

So while I'm trying to stop and look at things from their perspective? I also try to remember what the anger is saying about me, how I'm contributing to the situation, and what I need to adjust.

Again, I can think of times when I wish I'd done this better.
But we're only human, yeah?
;-)

All the best!
deb

Hello Dani,

You right, of course, about calm being contagious as are emotions in general. When faced with an opportunity to get mad I will immediately work to remind myself that my anger will not improve the situation, in fact, most of the time it only escalates things. I also try to see the "opponent" as the person they are, with the same needs that I have and remind myself that my anger may cause hurt in the other person. Those are a couple of things I do that really work for me and help me to chill out. =)

Great article and advice!

When I'm upset I recite positive calming affirmations in my head.
1. I am calm and at peace
2. This will be resolved peacefully

Doing this brings me closer to the situation. I'm able to stop, think and react positively.

I use to be an extreme Hot Head, so learning these techniques were a life saver. :)

Great site! I love your message... I like to calm myself down by observing the other person or persons involved and try to step outside myself and observing others behaving in extreme ways. By noticing that they are behaving exactly how I don't want to be... it helps me get myself in check... good post! :)

and yet another good post!

I would say practice makes perfect. I have been put in a situation of having to deal with a family member who is hurt and angry...this makes for a rather difficult situation. I get better at handling myself, and keeping calm. The first time I blew up, then I kept telling myself that I needed to sparate myself from her anger...The next time I was a lot more calm...

You have to give yourself a break...and definately keep yourself from getting caught up in someone elses situation...Keep an open mind, and a loving heart...and you'll do ok...At least, that's what I hope for every time.

Love love love your blog...thanks

Dani,

If I had to pick one, I'd say #3 is the best strategy. Having been the mediator in numerous conflicts, I'd say all the other methods are overshadowed by #3. If you're not able to see and acknowledge what you're doing, you won't be able to take a step back or breathe or think positive.

I used to think that by doing those things, your actions force you into thinking mode and then you acknowledge your situation, but now I believe just the opposite. Perspective is the most important and really the key to self-acknowledgement. You have to make the situation greater than the person or make it matter on a personal level. Then they'll gravitate to the other steps.

Again, wonderful words used to communicate a powerful message. Looking forward to more!

Hi Dani,

A deeply insightful post. My method when people push my buttons: I remind myself that if i am angry, it's because I feel the other person has insulted or wronged me... and I feel insulted/wronged because I'm identifying with my mind and my body... instead of with Consciousness, which pervades the Universe.

I then identify with Consciousness. The other person can rant at my mind-body as much as he wants, but it doesn't bother me, because he isn't ranting at me. Also, I know that he is just another form of me (Consciousness) that is doing its thing. So in a way I empathize with him as well.

At the end of the process, I feel grateful the conflict arose because it helped remind me of my true identity, Consciousness. Amen.

Dani, these are all excellent tips. I never would have imagined you as a high-strung, high maintenance person. How bout... positively passionate? Taking a deep breath is the one that resonates most with me. Another thing to try is to detach from the "personal" factor; reflect back to the person what you "see". Good chance that your impending reaction is totally based on a false perception to begin with.

An important article with great pointers. Breathing certainly helps, as you point out, and relaxing into the gentle, unoccupied watchfulness brings about a broader, compassionate perspective in any situation.

Thanks!

Srinivas - I'm glad you liked that point. It's really important because, like you said, negative actions like yelling are also really contagious. If we're going to spread something, let it be happiness... SO jealous that you're on the west coast. Love CA!

Deb - WOW! Those were really, really excellent points that you made in your comment. I could relate almost all of them to a situation I'd been in. I agree completely that we also need to look at ourselves and consider why we're angry. Sometimes, like you mentioned, we're trying to change someone and that is a terrible source of anger because it never works out for anyone. I love your comments. Thank you!

Keith - Sounds like you do some great things when you're feeling angry! I agree that it's important to consider the other person as a being with needs and desires. We are all humans and we all deserve to be treated with respect, no matter what kind of argumentative situation we've found ourselves in.

Tabitha - Those sound like great affirmations and the next time I've feeling particularly hot-headed, I'm going to try them out. Thanks!

Karen - So glad you enjoy the site! :) I feel the same way that you do. When I notice how others are reacting (or overreacting) I realize that I don't want to be like that and I feel myself calm down. This is why it's very important to take a step back from any situation and take a look at both our reactions and those of the other person.

Dawn - Thank you!! I agree that we have to give ourselves a break when dealing with difficult situations (especially with family members!). Life isn't always easy and we're not always perfect, but we can only do our best to stay calm and hope that our reaction will be contagious.

Akshay - I completely agree that #3 is one of the most important points and the others can stem from achieving it. It's important, too, not only to be mindful of our actions, but also to be mindful of our words and our thoughts. Thanks for the comment!

Lucky - Thanks for your GREAT comment. You make such a good point. When we're angry, we're identifying with a selfish, ego-driven part of ourselves and we need to take a step back and become more aware of universal consciousness. Thanks for bringing up this point. It's a great one!

Davina - Haha, I love it! Positively passionate! :) That's great. I also love your idea of taking a step away from the personal factor. Sometimes our personal perceptions, attitudes, and goals get in the way of having a productive conversation. Great point!

Kaushik - I definitely need to work on the breathing (in general) because I truly believe that taking deep breaths can really calm you down and make the situation a whole lot easier to manage. Glad to hear you liked the points I made here!


There are so many great tips here - from you and from other commenters. Tabitha, Lucky and Deb really stood out to me.

I've noticed that the more peaceful I become within myself - the more loving, accepting, what-have-you - the less conflict shows up in my life. I used to have a couple angry people in my life and one dropped away on her own, and another had to be gently pushed, but overall, conflict doesn't happen the way it used to. Not helpful to people who need "in the moment" advice, but it's worth shooting for in the long-run!

Inner peace = outer peace.

thanks for these FAB reminders, Dani. i'm a 'breather' - that works best for me ~ along with staying away from sharp objects- ha!

Ok, you almost made me DIE from that title. I don't feel like punching people, but I have the most trouble with maintaining my calm in the car. Everywhere else I'm totally zen, but people get on my nerves when driving. So while I've never wanted to punch them, but I may or may not have fantasized about a nice rocket launcher to get them out of my way.

What helps me the most is pretending I'm them. Maybe I'm in a rush and late for an interview. Maybe I'm just having a really bad day and don't give a crap. Maybe someone just died. Maybe no one ever told me what an awful driver I happen to be.

Calm, soothing music also helps. Music does soothe the savage Hayden.

I don't know about you, but I'm much calmer when I'm by myself! I rarely react to much when I'm alone; even if I burn my hand on the stove or break something. I tend to get less than calm when interacting with people who are important to me, probably because I care what they think and I have all sorts of beliefs and thoughts spinning around my head about how I should be feeling and reacting, or how the other person should be feeling or reacting.

I think the best tip I follow for myself is to look at what's making me feel not calm. Usually something is upsetting because it triggers one of my own fears (like I'm not good enough, not worthy, not loved) and has absolutely nothing to do with the other person. I think all of your steps are wonderful, and taking a breath and a step back are essential!

I thank you for this post! I am always a walking time bomb, may be because I'm working a lot and I live under a very stressful condition or way of life. We always need to strike a balance in everything. Finding your calm does you more good than bad.

Megan - You make SUCH a great point here. In order to become calmer in general (and when faced with an argument), it's really important to become more at peace with myself. This is something I'm working on all the time, but I should put a bit more effort into this as it can really impact the way I interact with others. Yet another reminder that I should start meditating...

Lisa - You're welcome! I agree, a nice deep breath or sometime away from the situation (and harmful objects, haha) can work wonders.

Hayden - Haha, I'm glad you liked it. Some people probably thought I was a bit crazy for writing that. Like you, I don't actually want to hit anyone, but I can get VERY frustrated sometimes (I also have some trouble in the car... and I really have no right to because I'm pretty much the worst driver ever). Soothing music is a great idea. I was just thinking about that yesterday in fact when I heard Enya playing on TV show. I was like, "I should listen to more music like that to calm down!"

Jen - I'm definitely calmer by myself. People always seem to rattle me up. You make a great point about considering what it is about yourself that is making you angry. Whenever I've done this, I find that the source of my anger is actually related more to me and my perceptions than it is to the other person/situation. Good points!

Cloak Link - Thanks for commenting! I agree that balance is key. We're not always going to be calm, peaceful souls, but it's important to know how to calm yourself and make the best of whatever situation you're in. This sounds like it could be especially useful in a stressful job environment.

Dani,

Perfect timing...again! I needed this post as I've just returned from a long trip and am experiencing some jet lag, which makes me irritable. I know the jet lag will pass and when it does, I'd still like to have some friends left. Therefore,I REALLY appreciated the suggestions you've given for staying calm!

I found my way to calm through my yoga practice...

I learned to breathe...the right way

I found my balance..

I found my strength...

And the best way to channel my grrrrrr side is through Warrior II...named for the fierce god Shiva...

and when all else fails, I go to Thai Kickboxing class...

Sara - Yay! I'm so happy I could help you out. Thanks so much for leaving your comment.

Peggy - Those are GREAT suggestions. I've never done yoga and I think it would probably be a great way to achieve a higher sense of calm. Thai kickboxing also seems like it would a great way to release some of my energy... :)

Hello Dani,

Boy, you hit the nail on the head with this one! If my wife and I could practice these tips, I imagine 80% of our flare-ups would be eliminated.

Thank you!

-Chris

Thank you so much for the post, Dani! I really appreciate the time it took for you to come up with these tips - they're great! I don't get angry often, so when I do I find it very hard to calm myself, and then after the argument, I get very depressed. And as usual, the hardest part for me is looking at the positive of the situation. But, I will definately be taking your advice the next time such a situation occurs. Thanks again! I love your blogs!

I'm with you girlfriend - I could use just a little calm myself (need to be more like Lance over at The Jungle of Life)!

I've found in recent times, meditation really helps me keep calm overall but when I'm starting to lose my cool, I do the deep breathing thing. If I can, I take myself off and do it in a toilet or somewhere private.

Excellent pointers. I also try to view things from the other person's perspective and try to understand why they reacted the way they did and if I was in their shoes how would I have responded.

Chris - Can you imagine if the whole WORLD abided by these ideas? What a different place it would be! However, it's not always that easy and I know that first hand. It's pretty easy for my emotions to take over and that's never a good thing, but I'm going to work on these!

Ia - You're welcome! :) I'm glad I could help out. These definitely aren't easy things to master (especially for me!) but I really do think trying these things the next time you're in an argument is likely to have much better results.

Sami - I've heard such great things about meditation. I MUST try it. I'm going to work on incorporating it into my life because it seems that it would have a great affect on times when I'm stressed or angry.

John - Looking at a situation from someone else's perspective is almost always a good idea. At the very least, it doesn't hurt, and, at the most, you might gain some great insight that could even put your arguing to an end!

Hi Dani

I love the idea "a Positive pill" That is a new one for me, I think I am going to borrow it sometime :-)
Great tips on how to stay cool!
Thanks for sharing.
Giovanna Garcia
Imperfect Action is better than No Action

Giovanna - So glad you liked the "positive pill" idea. Definitely use it! :)

I'm a hot-headed person, that's for sure. I've got a lot of work to do when it comes to one-on-one confrontation, but with things like road rage or general irritation, I make a point of bursting out into song when I feel my blood pressure rise. It calms me down and refocuses my negative energy into something much lighter.

Now, if I could just get rid of those boxing gloves when a heated discussion comes up!

Veronica
Moment-to-Moment Optimism
www.drrussbuss.com

Veronica - Bursting into song while battling road rage is a great idea. I'll have to try that one next time I'm stuck in traffic! It's always a little bit more difficult when you're in an argument, but I hope some of these tips help you out.

a guy i know randomly, at least i think so, just starts trashing me. i showed my friends, and he says that i must have done that cause it really bothered me. but it didn't. the only thing that bothers me is thay he thinks he has the right to say that stuff. he gets pissed and said i did something to desreve it, but the thing is, all i did was voice my opinion in a debate we 2 were having with other people for speech team. i know its not a good situation for the team, but i know hes not going to take steps to fix this. i plan on just saying sorry, and the asking what i did. but he's super high strung and is always causing drama within the team. am i doing the right thing? how do you deal with someone like that?

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